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Julian Assange arrives in Australia after legal battle ends

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was greeted by family and supporters when he arrived in Australia on Wednesday night, just hours after his decade-long legal battle came to an end with a guilty plea in a small U.S. courtroom.

A charter plane carrying Assange landed in Canberra, Australia’s capital, after flying from Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. commonwealth in the western Pacific Ocean, where Assange appeared in court.

The founder of WikiLeaks pleaded guilty to obtaining and publishing U.S. military secrets in violation of the Espionage Act, a move which was part of a deal with the U.S. Justice Department to secure his release.

Specifically, Assange acknowledged that, from 2009 through 2011, he conspired with U.S. Army private Chelsea Manning to obtain and distribute classified U.S. documents through WikiLeaks.

District Judge Ramona V Manglona sentenced Assange to the 62 months he spent at Belmarsh prison in London. “You’ll be able to walk out of this courtroom a free man,” the judge said.

Julian Assange on the plane which took him to the U.S. (Credit: WikiLeaks)

The plea deal ends nearly 14 years of legal issues for Assange, who was first arrested in the UK in 2010 because he was being sought for questioning over rape allegations in Sweden.

The allegations, which Assange claimed were politically motivated, were unrelated to Assange’s work for WikiLeaks, which caused a diplomatic scandal for the U.S. when large numbers of classified documents were released.

The allegations came just months after WikiLeaks’ first big scoop in April 2010, when it released a classified video which showed a 2007 U.S. helicopter attack that killed unarmed civilians in Iraq, including two journalists working for Reuters.

When the UK’s top court approved his extradition to Sweden in 2012, Assange entered the Ecuadorian Embassy, where he was granted political asylum, allowing him to stay inside the diplomatic compound and beyond the reach of British police.

Swedish prosecutors dropped the rape investigation in May 2017 but British police said Assange would still be arrested if he tried to leave the embassy, citing a British warrant which was issued after he failed to surrender for his extradition to Sweden.

Ecuador revoked his asylum in April 2019 and Assange was arrested by British police. The United States then unveiled a previously sealed indictment, charging Assange with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. He had since remained in prison while fighting his extradition to the U.S.

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